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Protein by any other name

While it’s true that meat and poultry aren’t the only protein sources in the American diet, they have dominated over the years. But the movement toward protein alternatives, particularly plant-based products, is growing.

The 2017 Power of Meat study, conducted for the Food Marketing Institute and the North American Meat Institute, shows that 39% more food items carry protein claims today versus 4 years ago. But that doesn’t necessarily mean meat, and it’s not driven by vegetarians or vegans.

According to a 2016 HealthFocus International study, only 17% of Americans said they eat a plant-based diet either exclusively or predominantly, but another 60% reported cutting back on meat.

Millennials are a factor here, as the 60% responding to the Power of Meat study said that meeting protein goals does not require meat. Three out of four reported serving meat alternatives once a week or more, and that includes fish/seafood, eggs, beans/lentils, other plant-based products and seeds/nuts.

Millennials’ dollars go to items that are fun, different and easy to prepare; six out of 10 said adding variety was the reason for including protein alternatives (versus 52% of general respondents). Health was the second reason — 44% of millennials and 38% of general respondents.

Americans’ perception of plant protein has improved, according to the International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) 2016 Food and Health Survey. One-fifth of respondents view plant protein as more healthful than they did the year before; 8% view it as less healthful. Meanwhile, 12% of consumers perceive animal protein as more healthful, and 15% see it as less healthful.

Notably, tech innovators — Google’s Sergey Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Baso, Microsoft’s Bill Gates — are all funding protein-alternative projects. Their reasons vary, but among them is an attempt to meet long-term global food needs, as well as stabilizing the environment.

“There are people who really think the food system is broken and that there are different ways, using technology, to re-invent the system,” says Mary Shelman, president of Shelman Group.  She points to beef made of tissue culture, which a few years ago cost $300 to make one burger. “It has now dropped to $11 and that’s not even at the pilot scale yet,” she adds.

Impossible Foods, created by former Stanford biochemist Patrick Brown, makes meat and dairy products from plants, including the Impossible Burger. The key ingredient is heme, an iron-containing molecule found in animal muscle. Brown’s company found a way to make heme using plants, allowing the burger to reportedly look and taste like ground beef. It even sizzles on the grill, browns and oozes fat when it cooks, the company reports.

Traditional meat companies are branching out, too. For example, Tyson Foods recently bought a minority stake in Beyond Meat, calling it an opportunity to get exposure to a fast-growing segment of the protein market. Beyond Meat is a pea-protein burger that not only sizzles like meat but also “bleeds” beet juice.

At the close of 2017, Beyond Meat rolled out Beyond Sausage, a plant-based alternative to pork sausage in original bratwurst, hot Italian and sweet Italian varieties. The company is marketing the product as “featuring more protein and less fat than meat-based pork sausages.”

The key is that people all over the world, and especially Americans, value protein and are eating more of it. This means there’s room for both meat and plant-based proteins to flourish, Steve Walton, general manager of HealthFocus International, told attendees of the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition, as reported by Meat + Poultry.

“People like to dabble,” he said. “Maybe 5% to 10% of people are rejecting meat, but it’s a niche market and not a mainstream one.”

 

 




Posted on February 25, 2018

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